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Whether practicing self defense skills for the street or as a martial artist, confident execution is built on a disciplined and strategic approach to practicing fundamental skills. In the following excerpt from Science of Skill’s Body Weapons course, Swedish self-defense expert Lars Fidler gives simple but powerful tips on how to practice self defense drills on an ongoing basis, as well as what to look for in a self defense school.

Optimizing Self Defense Skill Development

Optimizing martial arts skills requires an openness to continuous learning, as well as extensive amounts of training time and an ongoing commitment. But there are a number of important and simple skills that can be done when drilling with a partner on a regular basis.

You want to learn and practice drills that you can work with back and forth with a partner; it’s more realistic to switch between offense and defense and an efficient use of time to ensure that both parties are working on a relative skill. Lars offers the following fundamental skills as ideal for working on partner-oriented drilling:

  1. Work with force: This includes pushing and pulling, leaning and hanging onto your partner in order to get a sense of balance and body structure (your own and your partner’s).
  2. Work with impact: When someone is standing within an arm’s reach and throwing a punch, it can be difficult to react quickly, so it’s imperative to find safe ways to work with and become expectant of realistic levels of impact (often, schools are working with too little) and to add power (again, safely) on a regular basis into strikes.
  3. Work with different strike levels: Lars views training as similar to the way a nutritionist may view food – you should eat a little bit of everything to maintain optimum balance, and it’s the same with training. When striking, you’re getting a sense for objects in motion, their weight and how much impact is required. It’s important to work on your own striking the air, to optimize muscle structure and form, but you also need to work on striking heavier objects and pads to form a more holistic picture (physically and mentally).
  4. Work with coordination: When it comes to self defense moves, Lars believes that simple is often better, but there are obviously good techniques that are more difficult, and these often entail more coordination with multiple body parts. Any sort of coordination training, including playing a musical instrument for example, is helpful and can be applied to martial arts. Getting a sense for where your body is when not moving or visible is key; the hand that isn’t striking is more difficult to control, for example).

Finding a quality teacher and school

Lars notes that it can be tricky to know if you’re getting quality martial arts instruction because “you can get away with a lot” i.e. most students, particularly beginners, haven’t actually tried and tested their skills in real situations, and even if they do it’s near impossible to make a ‘correct’ technical analysis as a beginner.

What you need to look for, says Lars, is a school that exudes an attitude of respect and humility and cultivates a relaxed and safe environment, where working with partners is a pleasant experience and teachers are constructive rather than overly critical. There shouldn’t be an excessive enforcement of hierarchy; you want structure, but it needs to serve a purpose, says Lars. We can’t insure your local gym fits that description but here is a website that allows you to search for gyms near you.

If you can’t work with anyone who is “below” or “above” your belt level, you’re missing out on valuable learning and teaching opportunities. There will be differences in percentages of what you can put into training with different levels of trainees, but there should always remain a feeling of cooperation, says Lars. It’s also important to be in a place where feel you have space to make mistakes and to try new techniques with a variety of levels of partner.

Additionally, students should look for a balanced curriculum of repetition and new content. Perhaps the most common trait of less qualified schools is excessive repetition, where you do the same techniques over and over. At the same time, you also don’t want too much new content thrown out that’s learned on a shallow basis. A quality curriculum is generally one where students learn techniques and moves and repeat those until they’re learned, and then move onto try something new while revisiting and incorporating old techniques on a regular basis.

 About Lars Fidler: A student mainly of Hardy Holm’s (Chief instructor at Students of Goju Ryu) multifaceted system of self defense, Lars Fidler has studied and practiced self defense martial arts since 1997 and has taught it regularly since 2007. Lars holds belted ranks and/or experience in other forms of martial arts as well. He holds a teaching certification from Stockholms Universitet and is a martial arts instructor, focusing on self defense, at Students of Goju Ryu in Mariefred, Sweden.

John Bishop

Category Tactical

Type article

Duration 5 minutes
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